Accessing Your Emotions For Writing Through Acting Exercises.
Work for the actor lies in two areas: the ability to consistently create reality and the ability to express that reality.
– Lee Strasberg.
I’ve been acting since I was eight years old.
Believe it or not, I was one of the obnoxious children on the Art Linkletter show. On the show I announced that I was switching professions from a CIA Agent to an Actress— primarily because I could skip school, and all the nice people on set gave me all the free grilled cheese sandwiches and orange sherbet I so desired. Thank God my reasons for acting grew in scope as I got older. Then, fortunately, one day I was chosen to be a member of The Actor’s Studio and trained with the great Lee Strasberg.
When I finally began writing my first book, “The Whip”—inspired by the true story of the famous Wells Fargo stagecoach driver, Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879)—I realized that I was subconsciously using many of the acting techniques I had learned through my years as an actress. It seemed to work for me, so I always suggest to writers to explore an introductory acting class. I believe the exercises one learns as an actor are incredibly helpful to a writer.
Actors are trained to be athletes of their emotions. A writer must access their own emotions as well; to write not just from their heads, but from their hearts and their unique feelings.
The character Charley Parkhurst goes through extraordinary loss in “The Whip.” So I ask, what exactly is loss to you personally? We all experience loss in different ways. Let’s say, as an example, you feel rage, hopelessness. So, how do you access these emotions that you might have felt in the past?
At the Actor’s Studio, I was taught what is called “method acting.” It’s a process where you use all of your senses to experience a time when you were feeling the emotion you want to portray. When you are successful, you are able to translate that true feeling into the character (yourself) at a precise moment in time to use as an artist.
Here is a very basic ‘sense memory’ exercise for you to try:
First, you must find a quiet, private space. Get yourself into a state of relaxation. With the emotion you want to access in mind, think back to when you have experienced it. A specific time, a specific place … Ask yourself, who were the people you were with? What did you see? What did you hear? What did it smell like? What were you wearing? What was the weather? And on and on… The more questions you ask yourself, the better.
Now, see if you can picture yourself experiencing the emotion you have chosen. Watch yourself experience it as if you were in a movie. Do you feel uncomfortable, as though you want to stop the feelings? If so, push through it and start to write using those true feelings. Channel through them and get down on paper what those feelings look like, feel like, smell like, taste like… Take yourself through this exercise. The moment you feel empty, write what it feels like to feel nothing. What does ‘empty’ feel like? Write about that, as it may turn into something else.
There are also acting exercises to teach you ‘improvisation’ with other actors. This, of course, is how you create dialogue. As a writer, you improvise with your characters within the scene. There are so many wonderful exercises that might assist your writing that comes from acting training.
I suggest being brave and tracking down an acting class—whether in a college or community theater … ask around … and see if this might help you with your writing. It certainly will make you bolder and braver—another important attribute for the writer.